Monday night the NC State Icepack and UNC Tar Heels took to the ice in their annual Backyard Brawl rivalry showdown at PNC Arena. NCSU entered play a flawless 8-0-0 on the young season, with a 4-0 record in the conference. They are in first place in the Carolina East division of the ACCHL standings, also consisting of Duke, UNCW, and UNC. The Tar Heels have struggled a bit, sitting at 2-4-0 and looking for their first ACCHL point, entering the game at 0-3 in-conference. However, as with most rivalry games, records and match ups can largely be thrown out the window. In front of a large, raucous, and mostly red-clad crowd on the ‘Canes home ice, the two teams would do battle in what was an entertaining, back-and-forth affair. There was a lot more offense than defense, and the goalies probably don’t want this game on their highlight reel, but it was a great game in a great environment. Ultimately, the Wolfpack would pull away late and win by a final score of 9-5.
Carolina surges early
The Heels were the better team out of the gate, as the Pack started a bit sloppy with some unforced turnovers and poor decisions. Just 1:23 in the Heels took a 1-0 lead, as Matt Richard intercepted a breakout pass and sent Mason Regan in on a partial breakaway. Regan did a good job fighting off a back-checker and beat Pack goaltender Joey Hall on his short side. Then, Joey Hall had to make a reflexive save on a deflection off a point shot. However, the rebound bounced high in the air and Ricky Chen, in his first game back after dealing with a concussion, was able to corral it and do a great job of quickly getting it on net before Hall could recover. Just like that, the Pack found themselves in a position that is quite unfamiliar this year: facing a multi-goal deficit.
As has been the case many times over the course of his five years on campus, it was the captain who would jump-start the Pack offense with a big goal. It all started with great pressure from Parker Szarek on the forecheck. He would get a piece of an attempted clear from a Carolina defenseman, and the carom went right to Sam Banasiewicz who would rifle it past UNC goalie Chris Bakolia glove-side (deflected off a Heels defender, if I’m not mistaken) to trim the lead to 2-1. The Pack had been buzzing for quite some time at this point, and it was fair to wonder if this spelled trouble and a momentum swing for the Heels. However, Carolina would show their mettle and quickly re-establish a two-goal lead shortly thereafter. Clark Janifer was outmanned 1-on-2 on a rush, but on a bit of a bad bounce (or good, depending on your allegiance) his initial shot glanced off a Pack defenseman and to Joey Hall’s left. Janifer was able to get there first and shovel in a backhand from a tough angle. But the seesaw immediately teetered back the other way, and the Pack’s top line was once again the source of the lift. Banasiewicz would receive a breakout pass and fly up the ice before dishing to Nikita Anistratov, who fought off two checks and slid one past Bakolia from the high slot. Midway through the first period, and we already had five goals. The second half of the first period would be the polar opposite, as the goalies finally got a little relief. Banasiewicz would hit the post just before the horn sounded, but the period would end with that same score of 3-2 in favor of the Tar Heels.
But the Icepack responds in the second period
The Pack came out in the second period and began imposing their will on the Heels, and really started to show why they are off to such a great start in the 2018-19 season. A large part of that is depth, and the ability to put out four lines that can contribute each and every night. While the first line did the offensive heavy lifting in the opening frame, the second line got the scoring going in the second to get the game evened up. It all actually started with a big penalty kill backed by some great Hall saves early in the period. That was followed by two post-whistle skirmishes that got both benches as well as the PNC crowd going. Lots of pushing, shoving, and maybe a punch or two led to a Pack power play, where two sensational rookie talents would put on a show for a highlight-reel worthy goal. Alex Robinson would carry the puck end-to-end and do the between-the-legs drag many Canes fans have seen Eric Staal and many others pull off over the years (though with Staal it usually went nowhere). After the Carolina defender made sure to seal the him to the outside enough to where Robinson couldn’t cut in front of the net, he darted behind the cage but slid a pass back out the side from which he came to a waiting Riley Johnson. Bakolia was leaning but not totally fooled, but Johnson roofed a perfect shot to tie the game at 3 with 13:48 left in the second.
Some back and forth play and a Cam Mazikowski rip off the crossbar followed, and then just past the game’s midway point Alex Vedetta would give the Pack its first lead of the night. Matt Costigan would win a draw and poke the puck to Vedetta, who rifled a gorgeous backhander past Bakolia’s glove. It was Veddy’s second career goal, and they have each come in the last two games. Both have been beautiful iron-and-in shots, as well. He’s a player who has played on the fourth line this year but has really worked hard, and is starting to reap the rewards. Awesome to see. That gave the Pack another massive lift, as it always does a team to see a player not usually relied on for offense get rewarded for his hard work with a goal. This one in a huge spot, no less. The Pack’s dangerous power play would make it 5-3 with just under four minutes to go in the second, as Alex Robinson once again dazzled. After some good puck movement Riley Johnson fed Robinson at the goal line, who tried to find a seam to hit Banasiewicz backdoor. Bakolia had a good stick to block the pass, but the puck lay in front for Robinson to pounce on. He would make no mistake, perfectly placing a filthy backhander off the crossbar, post, and in. The score would stay the same into the second intermission, as the hits and chippiness continued but the score would not change.
The Heels push back early in the third but NC State responds and ices a win in the third period
The Heels would not go quietly, and came out in the third and would cut the lead back to one just 1:25 in. After missing on a stretch pass, Patrick Kramer would beat the Pack defense down the ice to cancel out a would-be icing. Christopher Robin (Scott) Adamson, the one Tar Heel who I have a little sympathy for, would find a soft spot in front, and Kramer would hit him with a perfect pass. Adamson ripped it home for his team-leading fifth of the year, and the momentum swung back the Carolina way’s a bit. However, they would be unable to find the equalizer as Joey Hall stood tall. Exactly 6:00 into the period, Ian O’Rourke would challenge Bakolia high glove. The Carolina goalie would get a good chunk of it. Unfortunately for him, though, it was not quite enough. The puck got by him and Laythe Jadallah would narrowly beat out a Carolina defender to it. He would tap in a puck that had been straddling the goal line for what felt like an eternity. The two-goal deficit was restored, and the Pack would take the game over from there.
Less than a minute later, Parker Szarek would earn his second point of the night, walking around two Carolina defenders before roofing a beautiful shot short-side on Bakolia with 13:04 remaining. Then at 12:21, Trevor Merchant would make a great play as the high forward on the forecheck, intercepting a breakout pass and setting up assistant captain Alex Kinney for a great point-blank scoring chance. Bakolia would make the save, but Tyler Alfonzetti did an excellent job corralling the rebound on his backhand, dragging it around the outstretched netminder and finishing into the empty net. Blink of the eye, it is 8-4 Icepack. The pace would slow down slightly from there, but the chippiness and talking certainly did not. The crowd got pretty wild along with it, and there were a couple times I wondered if things could get ugly. Luckily it never quite came to that.
With about 6 minutes left, Eric Todd would make it 9-4. Bakolia’s defense put him in a pretty awful position fanning on a breakout pass. Todd, an excellent penalty killer, was in the right spot and beat Bakolia with a quick backhand-forehand move. The Pack defense would largely shut the game down from there, save for a quick wrister through a screen from Ben Rees that beat Hall five-hole. It was Rees’ first goal in his first game and came with 31.5 left on the clock. However, at that point it was obviously too little, too late. With that, the Pack maintained their perfect 9-0 record, while the Tar Heels dropped to 2-5.
I do want to give a shout-out to Mr. Chris Adamson, my step-brother who helped me make sure I got my names and events correct from the UNC side of things. As some of you may have read in an article of mine earlier this year I do play for NC State (well, play is a strong word), but I tried to make sure this was relatively detailed on both sides and for the most part unbiased. Lastly, if you’ve never been to a Backyard Brawl, I highly suggest you do not make plans for November 19 when the two teams meet at PNC for round 2. This is still club hockey, but the games are competitive and well-played, and the environment is phenomenal. The ACCHL really has come a long way, and it is always good to support local hockey. I would say at least 4,000 people attended tonight, so let’s try and get another 1,000 next time.
Go Canes! (And Pack!)